Sunday, November 25, 2012

Disneyland 1960

There was no DisneyWorld yet. Just The Land. That's what all the five year olds in Kentfield called it in 1960: The Land. "Dude, I'm headin' down to The Land tomorrow with my breeders". In those days people around here thought that Orlando, Florida was named after Giants first baseman Orlando Cepeda. Orlando Bloom the snotnosed little monkey fart wasn't even a glimmer in the eye of his breeders yet. But enough about Orlando we're talkin 'bout The Land!

Disneyland and I were both born in 1955, as were alot of things and people but few as important as The Land. As you can see from the pics even though The Land had been around for 5 years very few people knew about it in fact it was deserted most of the time. But my cousin Tom and I were hip to The Land before it was cool, long before the tourists showed up, and when the Indian dude in Frontier Village was a real Indian not a Mexican.

I gotta admit my memory of 1960 at The Land is a little dim, but then my Cousin Tom sent me these pics last night I started thinkin' about some of the goodle days, hangin' with Aunt Jemima, my Grandmother Hale, and I suppose our Moms (but not our Dads -- Dads in 1960 did not hang at The Land). My Cousin Tom lived in Santa Monica and we lived in Kentfield Gardens. Our sisters would have been too small to do The Land in 1960, but Tom and I were totally down with it, cruising the submarine rides several times a day and ogling the mermaids. It was great back in the day 'cuz nothing was fake - the mermaids, the Indian dude, the riverboat, the train, the monorail, Mickey, Minnie, The Mad Hatter, Alice, the crazy teetering rocks that were about to fall on the mining cars, the mountain goats on the Matterhorn, the SNOW on the Matterhorn, hippos, elephants and crocs on the Jungle Cruise, the giant clam on the submarine ride - all that shit was real! You could actually reach out and touch it! Yeah it was a little rugged when there was a shootout in FrontierLand and they killed a guy. But I suppose he actually was trying to rob that saloon so he got what was comin' to him.

There was no Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, not that the new stuff wasn't cool but I'm talkin' about the genuine, original Land where Davey Crockett himself was hanging out and all these Indians too but it was cool they got along just fine.

Then DisneyWorld came along and wrecked The Land 'cuz all the people wanted to hit The World, they didn't even know about the little 'ol Land, the real true Magic Kingdom. Yeah The Land in 1960 had it goin' on. I wish I could go back but it's gone: 1960, that toe-headed five year old and his cousin, Grandmother Hale, whoever was taking those pictures, the submarine ride, the mining ride, the real Indians, Davey Crockett, Aunt Jemima, all gone.

I'm not sayin' Disneyland today isn't still the happiest place on earth. I'm just sayin' it's not The Land anymore. Ya know?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Bolinians Part I

Dimitri Pavlovich is said to have invented the "comb-over"
 I was attacked by a random memory as I was winding my way around Bolinas Lagoon the other day. Damn thing came flying in through the open window, whomped me upside my fat head, forced me over to a pullout, dragged me out of the car and threw me onto the gravel. When I awoke several days later the memory, clearly of the Jungian archetypal variety, was with me clear as day and I knew if I did not extricate it to the page quickly it would surely drive me mad. So here it is, extricated in all it's magical glory for you, my lovely Limbolanders, to peruse, shake your head, and say "when's that crazy fuck gonna get a real job."

It is a memory of driving around the Bolinas lagoon on my way to get some fresh crab from the locals and observing the sea lions engaged in their usual low tide ritual: they’ve found an exposed spot and have arranged themselves side-by-side like blubbery sunbathers around the pool at the Outrigger Club. They look so dead to the world I figure they could’ve flown in from Duluth that afternoon and headed straight for the pool, had a few umbrella drinks and passed out. After my day of slinging verbal horseshit across the digital airwaves I am thinking a few umbrella drinks might be just the ticket, though these days dreaming about pounding back four Mai Tais in quick succession is like dreaming about becoming Queen of England. Not likely to happen.
            When I take the unmarked exit off Highway One onto the Olema-Bolinas road, the road that that Bolinians wish would magically appear behind the thick and swirling curtain of fog upon their summons and then be folded under the mists again upon their passing, like the entrance to the Mines of Moria, I always have the same thought:  should the San Andreas fault decide to slip right about now, a massive crack would split open under the water of the Bolinas Lagoon and suck the sea lions into the center of the earth with a giant “whoooosh”. I too would go down the drain, since the Black Rocket and I are positioned more or less directly above the fault that separates the Pt. Reyes Peninsula, and Bolinas, from the rest of North America. 
            I give Black Rocket a little goose just in case the big one should strike, imagining that Bolinas would be a perfect hideout for the notorious Yeung Lap Ming since it is, quite possibly, one of the more secretive, exclusive, and unapologetically mean places in the world. The good folks there, and there are plenty of them, claim that the historic stereotype is just a bad rap stemming from some major pot growers trying to warn off would-be hordes of high school thieves that might otherwise go ripping through the local gardens like swarm of Peter Cottontails. And there there’s the issue of the local surfers and their waves, which of course isn’t unique to Bo. But I’ve always thought there must be more than strong pot and good waves to make some of the local fisherman, artists, surfers, derelicts, hippies and farmers so aggressively and vocally isolationist. Some common thread that binds them together in mutual distaste for the outside world, which out here on the coast could hardly be called threateningly commercial, must keep the Bolinians looking over their collective shoulder.
            As it turns out, there is a little known myth that would indicate that the natives that live on the west side the San Andreas Fault, which would be the entire Point Reyes peninsula including Bolinas and the little not-quite-as-mean art colony of Inverness, which is also the side of the fault that will either sink into the ocean or float off into the Pacific in the event of The Big One, are all descended from Russian otter hunters and fur traders roamed the inlets, coves and caves from The Farallones to Mendo in the early nineteenth century.
It is fact, not myth, that from 1812 to 1842 Russians had the run of the California coast all the way down to Tomales Bay, which if it weren’t for the San Andreas fault would not exist. Myth has it that around 1814 one enterprising Russian in particular, Lieutenant Dimitri Pavlovich, who might have been related in one way or another to Tsar Aleksandr I from the looks of his long, aquiline nose, took a shine to an acorn-grinding, bare-breasted Miwok maiden whose name has sadly been forgotten. When it was discovered that the lieutenant was boinking one of the locals, Pavlovich was shipped off to a sealing station on the Farallones, which, besides being a prodigious source of guano (bird shit), are surrounded by one of the world’s largest population of Great White Sharks. (This, of course, makes the Norcal surfers a particularly fearless. or stupid, breed.)  
Pavlovich, once a hearty curly headed, cigar-chomping naval officer with sienna sideburns that swooped in from his jawline to the center of his cheeks, had been stripped of his brass buttons and epaulettes and left with a band of Kodiaks to harpoon Northern Fur Seals, shovel seagull turds, and collect seabird eggs in the eternally dense, wet and achingly cold fog that forever swirls around the Farallones. But the memory of his little Miwok girl, so willowy and lithesome in her adolescence, burned within him with such strength that he could barely walk. So one February night he commandeered a Kodiak skiff and in howling winds and blinding rain and set off from the St. James inlet between the cliffs.. The skiff pitched and yawed over giant swells as Pavlovich wielded his oars against the surf and rowed with the conviction of an uncontrollably horny man possessed by the powers of forbidden teen love. But it was not enough, and when he was finally pitched into the black ocean white sharks five times his length circled him instantly and it looked like he was going to be a midnight snack but, sensing as they do in their blindness that he had not an ounce of fat on him they all turned away except one, the patriarch of that noble lineage of great whites, El Munon, or The Stump. (We’ll come back to great great great grandfather Stumpy and all the little Stumpys after him, later. Maybe.) El Munon took the limp, almost drowned Russian in his jaws the way a lab might take a duck and swam with him thirty miles into the Bolinas Lagoon, depositing him on a rocky beach.

When Pavlovich regained consciousness the Chief of the Miwoks and other members of the local tribe were looking down upon him like he was a God who had run into some serious trouble with the ocean, and they marveled at the tiny indentations across his chest, back and tummy where Stumpy had so lovingly caressed him on their journey.  They gently grabbed Pavlovich the hair and dragged him several miles to the village on the mesa overlooking the point break. Once recovered and adopted by the tribe, the horny Russian got back into the boinking business and took to making babies with his young maiden and perhaps several other Miwok girls.
Meanwhile The Russians, who with their American fur trading partners had wiped out the otter population, pulled up stakes and vacated Northern California in 1842, selling Fort Ross and the surrounding area to John Sutter, the Sutter of Sutter’s Mill where gold was discovered just a few short years later. Had the Russki’s stuck around for another year or so and laid claim to all to the rest of California, there’s a remote chance everybody from here to Vladivostok would be speaking Russian and drinking copious quantities of vodka right now.
Salud, comrade!

Stay tuned for Part II "Pavlovich vs. Briones - Shootout at The Rancho"

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Blues n' Babble

 And this on the heels of the story that never ends, it just goes on and on my friend...The Twelve Bars. Call if synchronicity. Call it sage sequencing. Call it random bullshit.

Some folks dig having a boatload of background information about the folks in the band as they feel it enhances the overall experience. Others would rather make something up, imagining, for example, that Kevin Hayes was once a Hindu goat herder in the Himalayan foothills, and that his interest in drums was engendered by whacking the beasts on their asses with his staff. Later, Kevin won a new face in a raffle at the market in Kathmandu. As a result his goats no longer recognized him and ran away when he approached, leaving Kevin with no asses to whack. So, reluctantly, Kevin left his beloved goats and came to the United State, where he traded his whacking staff for a pair of drumsticks. The rest, as they say, is hysteria.

Other folks might comb the web for background information on the individual musician so, when for example Bonnie is packing up her keyboard, they can can regale her with questions about how she ended up writing songs for Bonnie Raitt.

My experience has been that many folks are curious about how the band got together, how they came up with their name, whatever happened to that rather strange harmonica player who told all those off-color jokes on stage. But as we know this gig is a little different as it's been put together to showcase my novel and also the very tasty styling of writer/musician Greg Glazner.

Greg and I met at the Rainier Writing Workshop last August in Tacoma. The workshop happens on the Pacific Lutheran University campus, and quite naturally there is a library/bookstore/micro-brew bar a few blocks away where students and staff gather nightly to drink and play tunes. While I was too fried by the whole experience to play music (I am going to take a personal valet with me next summer so I can be guided to where I need to be and when) I did get a chance to hear Greg play and...well, he's the real thing. Turns out Greg and his companion Pam Houston, who captains the creative writing ship at UC Davis and had a big hit with her novel Cowboys are My Weakness, along with two Irish Wolfhounds (Edward and Fenton) were renting a place on the Patios out here in Stinson for Oct./Nov. Greg, as a faculty member of the Rainier Writing Workshop, has a vested interested in the success of the students there, thus he's helping to promote Hack. And so, this here gig.

I've been playing with Bonnie and Kevin for a fair bit I'd say. We have a trio +1 (special guest) gig called Bonnie's Lil Jazz Thang and we play whenever Kevin is taking a break from his duties as a touring musician, of late with Roy Rogers and Matt Scofield, and for many years before that with Robert Cray. Bonnie keeps herself crazy crazy busy with a million different music projects, playing gigs, recording, producing, teaching (she taught last summer at Berklee School of Music in Boston). So we get together when the stars align, as they are this Friday!

Of course there are a plethora of fascinating human interest stories that would keep Limboland buzzing for weeks on end, like the time that Bonnie played a whole gig dressed in scuba gear and suspended from a Haitian Love Swing. So stay tuned. Weird shit is always happening here in Limboland!

And I hope to see all you local little Limbolanders this Friday and we'll all get low!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Twelve Bars

Tired of reading about the shit that our beloved President has to pull together if he wants to avoid being burned at the stake by his own supporters? I fear there is no individual as magnificent, strong, and powerful as one would need to be to digest all the trouble that's been heaped on our unfairly maligned leader's head. I am afraid, my sweet and beautiful friends, that brother Barry is going to get the blues something fierce in the next few months and he too will crave deliverance from the ugly, swirling vortex of pain and confusion known as governance. It's only natural that he's going to entreat the citizens to put on their boy or girl scout uniforms and exercise their great responsibility as free people - after all he can't do this all by himself. But he will need some sort of entertaining distraction; a sweet hard suckie to take his mind off things. Which is exactly why I have sent him my melodic trifle: Hack. It is also why I now offer up something without any redeeming social significance whatsoever: The Twelve Bar Blues.

Surely you've heard it. How many times, we've got to wonder, has this story has been told? You know, the one about the blues musician who chronicles his life according to the twelve most important dives he's played. It's just so plain that you would think there would be an entire wing of the Memphis public library dedicated to the short stories, poems, novels, sonnets, essays, blog post etc. etc about the Twelve Bars.

The analogy is so obvious it's stupid. For the non-musical fungus amungus, let me 'splain: In musical notation, a "bar" (aka "measure") is a unit of music defined by a number of beats between two vertical lines on the staff.  (Figure1) (You can ignore all the other boogers in the picture.)
Figure 1. Several bars, no booze.

Part of the irony is that most blues musicians, I would imagine, wouldn't know the kind of bar pictured here if it came up and bit them in the ass. But they do know that the music they play is based on a 12-bar pattern known as - ta da! - the Twelve Bar Blues. The fact that this music is primarily played in bars (nightclubs, lounges, etc) is a cosmic joy that is without a doubt a gift to us from The Creator. What mortal could have designed such purpose into the existence of these poor, booze-addled blues musicians? Who sat down at the dawn of time and deigned this music centered around twelve bars and 3 chords would be played in bars?

I know somebody here in Limboland will be able to point me to the short story, novel, poem, essay or other work of fine literature that tells the story of the once happy-go-lucky fella that, after he had visited twelve very specific bars - eight in Chicago, two in Memphis, and two in New Orleans -  descended into a depression so deep that he actually did end up drinking muddy water and sleeping in a hollow log. You know the story I'm talking about - "The Twelve Bar Blues".

While there may be twelve bars is this poor sucker's nightmare (or perhaps it's not a nightmare? Perhaps our hero loves the blues) there are only three cities. The ridiculously banal analogy is that each city represents a tonal value, a note or a chord, one of those do re mi thingies, of which there are generally three in a twelve bar blues. Out of the eight tones in the do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do Von Trapp Family Singers group jamboree, it is the do, fa, and so, or the one, four and five tones on the scale that comprise the three primary notes of the twelve bar blues. Painfully elementary and without a doubt a complete waste of my breath and my time, as I should be reading The Rhetoric of Fiction by Wayne C. Booth, or Madame Bovary, or doing something else for school because between work and school there really isn't time for anything else, especially this type of weak fecal discharge.

Weak fecal discharge though it may be, we must press on because, like Yeung Lap Ming, there is a BIZ to be done here. Quite specifically, it is a Mississippi BIZ, more or less. How does the story go? Our hero Mr. Bluesman (what is his name? Send me his name, will you please? I haven't read this story in a long time) starts with four bars in Chicago. These bars are named after local blues heros, right? So Mr. Bluesman did gigs in Muddy's, Howlin's, Willie's and Koko's, porkin' a different little piglet* in every bar. Or course each of the little chicklets he chows on has a big, ugly, ex-con, drug-dealin' pimp boyfriend and none of these fellers take a liking to Mr. Bluesman boffin' their babes.

So Mr. Bluesman moves on the Memphis and works a couple of bars, then has to go back to Chicago for two more bars because one of the piglets he's porked is pregnant. The pimp boyfriend insists that the baby is his and has decided to snuff our hero who is just a loser guitarist drinking beer, playing 3 chords in a 12-bar pattern for nickels and dimes, and doing every other drug that gets shoved in front of him. But now his worthless life is in danger so he hightails it to New Orleans where he gets gigs in two more bars until he hears that the pimp boyfriend in Chicago has gotten 12 to 20 for having relations with a minor (not a coal miner) and rushes back to his piglet, only to get whacked by the piglet's pappy. Ugh!

There it is, that story we've heard so many times: twelve gigs, twelve girlfriends, twelve bars. Shit if I remember this story correctly I think he might even have twelve drinks a day.

Oh for chrissakes this now reminds me of a variation on this tired and trite theme: The twelve bars on the twelve days of Christmas, and that one horrible night - the tenth night - when our erstwhile bluesman gets his bottom blacked and blued down at Chaps in the Castro with ten lords a leaping.Truly a sad and disgusting ordeal. He would have been better off had he quit on the eighth night and stuck with the maids a milking.

This story is so woven into the toilet paper of American Culture is has become almost archetypal, whether it's the ecumenical version, the Mississippi three-step, the Delta ramble, the Austin boogie...blues blues blues one four five twelve bars and round and round we go. The story of the Twelve Bars, be it Peri's Silver Dollar, The Chatterbox, The Barrel House Saloon, The Starry Plough, Nineteen Broadway, The Buckeye Roadhouse, The Pooper Scooper, The Silver Peso, The Grim Reamer, Ye Rose & Thistle, The Mayflower Pub, or The No Name is a timeless story of debauchery, pedophilia, alcohol abuse, drug addiction and, above all three great chords - the one, the four and the five (with possible substitutions of the six and two minor in the turnaround) that will live long after mankind has been eighty-sixed from the planet once and for all.

Just one thing. Somebody has written the story, right?

I almost forgot the version where twelve different bluesmen spend their lives in an endless round robin through twelve bars on Beale Street. You've heard that one too, I suppose?
Twelve Angry Men?

*I've heard there are GLBT versions of this archetypal story but I have yet to be in the company of those that might be aware of such versions.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lookin’ For Love in All the Wrong Places

Hey kids it's time to play "Literature in Limboland", where I join the din of book reviewers out there and do a little bullshit slingin' myself. Here's a little commentary on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Junot Diaz, Dominican homeboy of the switchblade prose.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Junot Diaz, Riverhead Books, 2007

Here is a tale of forbidden love, and what happens to those who partake of it. Set against a backdrop of Indio/Spanish island superstition, Catholicism, and Inquisition-era politics, juxtaposed against American commercial nothingness – the cursed de Leon family seeks comfort with mistresses, husbands and hookers. And they pay the Dominican way, in Junot Diaz high definition blood-splattered Technicolor.
I don’t know that there’s much else to be said about Junot Diaz’s hit story, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, since he took the literary world by storm and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. I’ll try and articulate what I believe to be Diaz’s formula for “success”, not in terms of writing a bestseller, but in terms of writing a grand and memorable novel.
This is what I see. Or read. Or hear.
“They say…that it was a dream drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fuku americanus, or more colloquially, fuku – generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World.” (P. 1)
I took it hook, line and sinker and only later when I looked it up and discovered that it’s the name of an Anime character, was I was struck by the magnitude of Diaz’s creation. I am struck again by the depth of imagination as he describes fuku as a “dream” somehow pulled “into Creation” from the earth’s innards through a deep ocean trench. Midway through the first paragraph and I am already slack jawed. By the end of the first chapter the contest between two supernatural powers is set: Fuku vs. Zafa, both products of Diaz’s formidable imagination.
Another critical opening ingredient: establish a character that wants something so bad they’ll do anything to get it. If a “fat sci-fi role-playing nerd wants to get laid or he’ll kill himself” plot isn’t enough, Diaz layers on Lola starved for motherly love and the story of the destroyed mother herself, Beli, who almost died trying to get what she wanted. 
         Then there are the themes that color the narrative: the whole sci-fi/fantasy element. While not an avid reader of the genre, there are a few books that I’ve read and reread: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Dune, The Foundation Trilogy (and later, Harry Potter). Each of them an epic of the struggle between good and evil, and characters/scenes/themes from each of them (except the Asimov trilogy) are used tirelessly as analogies throughout Oscar Wao. By attaching these stories to both Oscar and Yunior’s respective frames of reference, he infers a whole dimension of character without having to explain what it’s all about. Of course the reader is at a disadvantage if they are not familiar with Tolkien and Herbert, but that doesn’t mean they can’t follow. Oscar’s obsession with science fiction and fantasy is stereotypical for the fat kid, and the escape/withdrawal that the genre, along with the anime, (“Fuku”, it turns out, is an anime character), and the Dungeons and Dragons role play are the only comforts, along with food, that Oscar knows. Yunior, also an obvious fan the genre, is more attracted to the good vs. evil battle. Both like to enjoy a little smoky stimulant to the imagination that I feel overplays to the stereotype but Diaz is nothing if not honest about how these characters live.
But this story is about love, more specifically love WITH sex, juxtaposed against love WITHOUT sex (Oscar) and sex WITHOUT love (Yunior). The sad irony, or what I believe Oscar refers to as “the beauty” at the very end, is that, in this story our heroes fall in love with people that are not “available” and though our heroes are not the adulterers, they are equally guilty.  In Beli’s case, her Gangster is married to Trullijo’s sister, La Fea. While the very end of the novel could be interpreted in any number of ways, what struck me was Oscar’s conclusion that something as simple as gentle, human kindness, a tender touch, a connection with another individual is what it’s “all about”.
“He couldn’t believe he’d had to wait for this so goddamn long. (Ybon was the one who suggested calling the wait something else. Yeah, like what? Maybe, she said, you could call it life.) He wrote: So this is what everybody’s always talking about! Diablo! If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty!” (P. 335)
The reader can’t help but ask “the beauty of WHAT, Oscar?” He could have just have easily had said “the sad irony of it all”. The sad irony is that Oscar could’ve had, if he’d only known that is was so much more than sex, a life full of love.
What about the use of “postmodern” no-quote dialogue, mid-sentence line breaks, one-paragraph chapters, the somewhat random use of initial caps to give more meaning or weight to a specific word, and strange hybrid words from the world of sci-fi and Spanglish – all these characteristic lend the narrative a hip sensibility that embodies our narrator’s overall “groove”? ( I imagine that if the format was able to support graffiti, it would have been included as well.) It is exemplified here:


Before there was an American Story, before Paterson spread before Oscar and Lola like a dream, or the trumpets from the Island of our eviction had even sounded, there was their mother, Hypatia Belicia Cabral:
            a girl so tall you leg bones ached just looking at her
            so dark it was as if the Creatrix had, in her making, blinked
            who, like her yet-to-be-born daughter, would come to exhibit a particularly Jersey malaise – the inextinguishable longing for elsewheres.” (p. 77)
Outside of the no-quote dialogue, this passage has it all: the random initial caps (American Story, Island), the homegrown words (Creatrix, elsewheres), the vertical list, the ultra-short chapter: these are elements that in other novels may seem contrived, but in Oscar Wao fit beautifully.

Witnesseth the power: 
“It was obvious what was happening, but what could he do? There was no denying what he felt. Did he lose sleep? Yes. Did he lose important hours of concentration? Yes. Did he stop reading his Andre Norton books and even lose interest the final issue of Watchmen, which were unfolding in the illest way? Yes. Did he start borrowing his tio’s car for long rides to the Shore, parking at Sandy Hook, where his mom use to take them before she got sick, back when Oscar hadn’t been too fat, before she stopped going to the beach altogether? Yes. Did his youthful unrequited love cause him to lose weight? Unfortunately, this alone it did not provide…” (P. 45)
 And in the end, it’s the voice of the narrator, Yunior, Diaz’ alter ego, that carries the day. Yunior: the street smart barrio dude who snagged a follow-up gig in Diaz’s composite work, This is How You Lose Her.  From what I have read, it is Diaz’s street smart, mutant, familiar colloquialism that gets most of the attention. But Diaz doesn’t lay it out there as an oddity for our entertainment. Rather, when Yunior addresses us as “Nigger” and “Negro”, he’s feeling pretty confident that all of his readers are young and/or hip enough to know that it’s ok to use the “N” word among friends. So we’re hanging in Yunior’s back yard, passing a bowl and listening to him tell his story, stoned enough so that it doesn’t bother us when he drops the personal pronouns from of his sentences. Don’t even care.
Thus we let our guard down; we suspend our disbelief about fuku and zafa, the talking Mongoose, the magical wind in the cane, the miraculous survivals of the beat-downs to end all beat-downs, the men without faces, the blank notebook, the consummate culocrats and the one-track mind of Dominican males, and we can’t help but agree that Oscar Wao’s life was indeed wondrous.
Better yet it makes for a great story.